That Time We Had A Baby In South Korea

Early Thursday morning, I awoke suspecting something was … off. It was exactly a week before Hu-Stiles #2: Electric Boogaloo’s due date, and my inability to go back to sleep indicated maybe I was in labor. When actual contractions came on around 4am (just like with Eva), I called my mom, who wasn’t supposed to arrive from Taipei until Saturday, and told her I wanted her to get on a plane ASAP. Spouse Stiles started his husband-coaching and labor was ON, man. Contractions were getting moderate, but nothing I couldn’t handle while also getting Eva ready for school.

By about 8am, things were getting uncomfortable, and my Korean birthing center’s midwife wanted us to go ahead and go in because second babies tend to come faster (Teaser: This was NOT the case for me). We dropped Eva off at school along with my Dad, who is town for babysitting help, so he could take charge of picking her up later.

Now that we are home as a family of four, I can blog about the experience!

A Birth in Korea: Stray Observations

We chose Mediflower, a natural birthing center in Seoul’s Gangnam district, because I like things as un-medicalized as possible and Eva was born without any pain interventions to great results for mom/baby, so we wanted a repeat experience, if possible. Medical interventions during labor & delivery actually tend to be high in South Korea, which has a higher C-section rate than the U.S., even. So we really had to find a place that wasn’t going to take the control of the birth out of my hands.

That said, the experience wasn’t completely Western.

Take off your shoes. The center makes you take off your shoes, like any Korean home, upon entrance. They offer a wide array of slippers at the center entrance but each labor and delivery room had a slipper rack, too.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

There’s an obsessive focus on meal time and meals. (This is not a complaint.) My midwife Suyeon, or “Su,” checked us in and immediately presented us a menu for lunch, even though I was already six centimeters dilated. If you’ve given birth in an American hospital, that is not a point they let you chow down, if they let you eat at all. You can choose Western style meals or the Korean meals, which feature lots of banchan and some sort of main soup, stew or noodle dish. My spouse Stiles chose Korean. I went with a cheeseburger, which I had to eat between contractions and just after laboring in the tub for awhile.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Koreans believe Miyeokguk is the elixir of life. At the hospital/birthing center, Miyeokguk is available at every meal. It is seaweed soup, and Korean moms who abide by the traditional “confinement month” or “sitting month” after having a baby basically have to eat this every day, nonstop, to help in recovery and to get milk flowing for baby. Seaweed is an alkaline food which helps with pH balance and it’s full of iodine, which the Koreans say you need for getting your lady parts healed. I like it well enough, but I can see how you could easily get sick of it.

As in any part of the world, labor and delivery is not a walk in the park. I just had to accept that this was going to be a long day, and that contractions get more painful and intense and the breaks in between them get shorter until you face the daunting part of pushing out a small human. At one point between contractions I tried bouncing on the ol’ ab ball and this started an impromptu singing of R. Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” (key part includes ‘Bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce’). This was fun until it got a contraction going again. I knew Matty was being especially forgiving while I was in labor because he usually doesn’t ever let me sing in front of him, ESPECIALLY not Ignition Remix.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The tub and rope setup was pretty handy. Every two rooms share a water birthing tub with these 50 Shades of Gray-looking ropes to hang onto. You can dim the lights and work your way through the contractions, or even deliver in the tub. I just used the tub to get through contractions and got in and out of it a few times during labor day. It felt nice but I wanted to move around too much to stay in there for baby.

My mom made it before the typhoon. Mom wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Saturday, but I didn’t think I could go through with the pain of delivering a baby naturally without my mom being with me for the birth. She got on one of the only flights from Taipei to Seoul left (and among the last before they started canceling them in anticipation of Typhoon Chanhom), and made it to the birthing center with TWENTY MINUTES to spare. I was pushing, despairing and at the ultimate nadir of the labor process by the time she got there. It’s pretty amazing that the baby took her sweet time and didn’t make her appearance until her Oma (grandma) was by my side.

After the hospital staff encouraged me to eat dinner (BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DID), Isabel arrived at 7:12pm Thursday night at a healthy 8lbs, 4oz and 21 inches long. I shared a quick pic on social media, returned some emails and then went to bed for the night. Mom roomed-in with us so she did the overnight rocking and diaper changing when Isa fussed and I nursed the baby a few times while half-asleep.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

The next morning I awoke to a living nightmare that was also hilarious. Remember how the water birthing tub is shared between two rooms? A laboring mom checked in next door while we were sleeping. I awoke Friday to the sound of what I thought was a slaughterhouse, but really, it was just the final moments of a water birth. Seriously, it was like the cows in Fast Food Nation. Mom and I started cracking up just hearing this ordeal because we really thought this woman was not going to survive, much less deliver a baby. I was flooded with memories of delivering Isa the night before and I shuddered at the thought. After a few really awkward and terrifying moments only HEARING what was behind door #2, we heard a baby crying. She did it!*

The lactation consultant was so pro that she seemed like a North Korean Olympics Coach. Before checking out, Isa got her first bath and I got a lactation consultation from an elite North Korean soldier. I mean, a South Korean lactation specialist. She was a bigger-framed lady, tough and stern and scary with her style. She could only coach me through a translator so we went through this elaborate dance of her jerking me around on the bed and squeezing my boobs and contorting the baby’s mouth and jaw to show me the ultimate positions for breast feeding. I was so bewildered that I’m not sure I got much out of it. But baby seems to be eating enough, so far. Her older sister loves her.

Eva and Isa's first photo together.

Eva and Isa’s first photo together.

Isa got two birth certificates, one in each language. Next week she must go to the U.S. Embassy to declare herself as a U.S. citizen born abroad and to get her passport. The photo will be good for five years, which is going to be pretty funny.

*My mom later tried to tell me, in the nicest way possible, that if I thought the woman-next-door sounded bleak, that I sounded way scarier while delivering Isabel. I hope that’s not true…

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Roger Gifs, Day 3: Jubilation On The Water

I’m not really sure what’s going on here. But it’s probably not the only one I am going to share from Roger’s stand-up rafting on some piranha pond.

Roger on some sort of standup raft in a pond.

Roger on some sort of standup raft in a pond.

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Roger Gifs, Day 2: Roger Wears Suits On Long Flights

For the latest in my series poking fun at my little brother (but also not-so-secretly being jealous at his lifestyle), I chose a clip of Roger flying to Indonesia with a camera crew in tow. He seems to lounge and sleep with his bespoke suit on. This seems crazy to us lay people, but it’s become a joke in our family that every time we pick up Roger at the airport, even if it’s a flight from Beijing to Washington, he comes off the plane in a suit.

Those noodles look good, actually.

Those noodles look good, actually.

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Introducing Roger Gifs!

Roger Gif 1: I am Roger

Roger Gif 1: I am Roger

The most random and unintentionally amusing person I know is my little brother, Roger Hu. He’s also an expat in East Asia, working as the CEO of a tech startup he founded in China, TeeKart. It’s like Open Table but for booking golf tee times.

TeeKart is partnered with golf resorts in China, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and for some reason he got asked to host a handful of marketing vids to introduce the Indonesian courses he works with. The videos are ridiculous.

THIS IS GREAT NEWS FOR ME, because now I am going to start making a series of “ROGER GIFS!” This is “Roger Gif 1: I am Roger.”

These are going to get more insane, I promise.

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Preparing For The Cross-Planet Move

The view from my packing position.

The view from my packing position.

So between the last time I blogged and tonight, I was in Cancun with the besties, many of whom were part of The Great Sucia Treinta Cumpleanos Extravaganza, in which Terp was briefly detained by Costa Rican authorities.

Maybe I will get to sharing the photos from that time (which was followed by a terrible bout of Montezuma’s revenge — what a crisis), but tonight I was just feeling reflective after a day of packing for 2015 Cross-Planet Move: Storage, Part A.

In order to move some clutter out of my house, I’ve decided just to call movers over tomorrow and take away as much nonsense as possible so the house can be shown for potential renters. We spent the day packing up mementos, books and a lot of things that were frankly already mostly packed from the last move and left untouched for the last three years.

Among the items, I found the “yearbook” my South Carolina TV news colleagues signed for me when I moved away in 2006. It’s filled with hilarious memories, some of which I’d forgotten. JL‘s was probably my favorite, and amazingly, all true:

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

All of this happened between 2005 and 2006. Because South Carolina.

Moving always makes me feel a little wistful. This is my seventh move since graduating from college, not counting this summer, when I helped move all my childhood things from a childhood home, and I seem to have more crap with each move. I love it when old mementos (like above) pop up but it all reminds me of something Chuck Klosterman wrote in Killing Yourself to Live:

“When you start thinking about what your life was like 10 years ago — and not in general terms, but in highly specific detail — it’s disturbing to realize how certain elements of your being are completely dead. They die long before you do. It’s astonishing to consider all the things from your past that used to happen all the time but (a) never happen anymore and (b) never even cross your mind.”

So it’s onward, with the 2015 version of me. I’m definitely less reckless than I used to be (but not so conscientious that I don’t get my purse stolen from my unlocked car as we saw two weeks ago).

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Early Losses

My first miscarriage happened in January. I began to fear it just a day after learning I was pregnant. I went to the doctor and at six weeks, they saw a gestational sac on the ultrasound with nothing inside it. (There should have been an embryo there.) The next week, when they checked again, the sac had shrunk. I was diagnosed with a “missed miscarriage.” The remnants of fetus-that-never-was eventually left my womb on Chinese New Year.

My next miscarriage happened in late June, while I was on stage, speaking to a few hundred young people gathered for a Millennial convention in Chicago. (No, really, it is called Millennial Convention). I knew it was going to happen. Two weeks earlier, a scan showed a heart that beat too slow for a six week-old fetus. The clinical name for that is a “threatened abortion.” I read every study on heart rates at 90 bpm for tiny embryos, and science indicated that that pregnancy would be lost, too.

Clinically, they don’t diagnose you with recurrent pregnancy loss until you’ve suffered three consecutive miscarriages. That’s because the changes of miscarriage are so big (anywhere between 20 to 30 percent) that it’s entirely likely you lose two just due to random chance. As any betting person knows, it IS possible to roll two sevens in a row, even though it’s unlikely.

But I look for answers for a living. So I went and got tested — blood and hormone tests, chromosome tests, thyroid tests, and even a dye injected in my uterus to see whether my system had structural deficiencies. They all turned up exactly what my doctor suspected — nothing. System was sound, all my hormone levels in perfect ranges. My uterus is “beautiful,” the doc said. (Weirdest compliment, I know.)

I write about this because it’s part of my nature to share, but also because I don’t want anyone else who goes through pregnancy loss to feel ashamed about it. So many women suffer this sorrow silently, and don’t have to. The programmer Marco Arment reminded me powerfully in November, in writing about his wife’s 21-week pregnancy loss, that giving a voice to layered and varied and painful experiences frees us all.

I’m around if you, God forbid, go through something like this and want to talk. As Emily Bazelon wrote after miscarrying twins in 2003, “Shouldn’t we be talking openly about this much more often, so that we’re better prepared for the grief when it hits us?” I took some advice I read in that discussion: I came to think about my unborn babies as benevolent beings out there somewhere, tied to Matty and me, if only in memory.

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My Monthlong Miscarriage

January was a weird month. I came home from Taipei with the bird flu. (Or something like it.) It knocked out my entire family for a week and a half. Sometime during the feverish blur, our toddler’s nanny quit and moved out. I scrambled to find childcare and ultimately flew my aunt in from LA for two weeks, which meant a house guest we weren’t originally expecting. When I wasn’t convalescing, I reported a few radio stories, blogged a lot, tweeted even more, traveled to Nashville and back, started teaching my Medill journalism students and drank lots of iced green tea. And all the while, I was pregnant. Kind of.

The adage is that you can never be “kind of” pregnant, but when you learn you’re pregnant with an empty gestational sac — the condo that’s supposed to house an embryo is without a resident — and after an agonizing weeklong wait, doctors find a lifeless, microscopic little bean in a condo collapsing all around it, that seems pretty “in-between” to me. So that was most my January.

I started miscarrying on Chinese New Year’s Day. For the same reason I delivered daughter Eva without pain meds, I’ve always trusted my body to know what to do at the right time. As we rang in the new Lunar Year and the sun emerged for the first time in weeks, my body reliably ousted an embryo that would never become anything more. I felt both disappointed and relieved that my gestational limbo was almost over.

None of this is to say I treat this experience as unimportant — it is physically uncomfortable and emotionally disorienting. But I feel no shame about what happened. The more openly we discuss the range of female experiences, the freer we become. For better or for worse, for a huge chunk of us, the experience of womanhood includes miscarriage. I join a very, very large club. And I am better for being through it.

But dear god, I hope February is a lot more fun. 

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Happy 15th Birthday, Saidee

My momma's beagle.

My momma’s beagle.

For all my Texas pride, Saidee’s the only member of the Hu family that is a living, breathing Texas native. She was born in Grand Prairie, the runt of the litter. I remember her dog father being a show dog named “Copper Mountain Cody” — all the official AKC show dogs in her lineage were named by the street they called home.

I was a junior in high school at the time and, knowing I’d be leaving home for college the next year, scoured the classifieds to find a puppy daughter for my dog-loving mom. We hadn’t had a dog in our house since the unfortunate and painful hit-and-run death of my cocker spaniel, when I was 12.

My best friend Erin helped me choose Saidee — we drove out to Grand Prairie in my red Jeep Cherokee and visited the litter, which included three boisterous boys and one girl who seemed to struggle getting to feed as much as her brothers. She also had more brown in her coloring and an identifiable spot, so I picked her out and called dibs until she was old enough to come home. I snuck her into the house in my coat pocket — it was Christmas-time, 15 years ago — and presented her to my mom later that night.

We all fell in love. Saidee lived with my parents until my mom was transferred abroad, at which point she lived with my brother Roger and his then-girlfriend Tracy, in Tucson. She moved in with me and Matty in 2007 and has been with us ever since. In her 15 years, she’s lived in four states, survived a cancer scare, ran away and returned at least five times*, moved across the country by plane and car half a dozen times, explored the nation’s monuments, trekked through the Appalachian mountains, eaten everything that she shouldn’t have, put up with a total of four cats and now, a toddler.

When I got Saidee, I was a girl. Now I have a little girl of my own. We truly grew up together. I don’t mean this to diminish parenting a human in any way, but so much of my confidence as a momma came from learning how to really relate with Saidee and meet her needs over these past 15 years.

Now that she’s 15, she spends most of her days sleeping, has gone deaf in both her ears and is vision impaired, too. But she’s still spirited and spry — getting hyper and running around in circles when we come home, rolling around on her back for belly rubs, tirelessly rearranging herself in bed in order to snag the perfect spot, which somehow always seems to take up a lot more space than her 23 lb body would let on.

Happy Birthday, Saidee. I love you.

*In the most ridiculous Saidee runaway story, Saidee ran away to the home of another Asian-American woman in St. Louis, where she was living at the time. The woman renamed her “DuDu Peng” for the days they were together. I only know this because she took Saidee to the vet for her lifelong affliction with skin allergies, and got a prescription. My dad only tracked down Saidee because he was out at an intersection putting up Lost signs and across the street, his friend spotted “Found” signs showing Saidee/Dudu’s image.

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Thanksgiving 2013

I’m always thankful for family, and mine is particularly badass partly because it’s huge and includes a lot of foodies and eaters. So Thanksgiving with my extended family in Maryland always involves a lot of serious eating but it’s really more like a giant face-stuffing scrum than it is a “lunch” or a “dinner.” Part of the reason is because we have about 30 family members plus kids involved each year, so we don’t sit around one giant table, and we eat in phases starting at the lunch hour but powering on through til dinner. It generally includes our hyper-physical four-year-old cousin Luc beating and wailing on Stiles for a good chunk of time, and Cousin Clarence reliably brings Turducken — the Louisiana favorite involving a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. (Note: My cousins the Ho brothers enjoy some cult fame in a tiny corner of the Star Wars and kung fu choreography-loving internet for their 2002 fight video, Art of the Saber. True story.)

Our meat selections felt endless — Suk, my cousin’s wife Diem’s sister’s husband — got himself a smoker and making brisket has become a new hobby of his. So on top of two fried turkeys, the Turducken, a ham and endless sides, we had two choices of brisket — spicy and sweet. Our pals Audrey and Patrick have spent so much time flying back and forth to family this year that they stayed in town for Turkey Day, so they joined us at the Maryland festival of meat, armed with Audrey’s signature brussel sprout salad, which disappeared quickly. Gobble, gobble.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma's recipe — brussel sprout salad.

Audrey brought her specialty from her Texas momma’s recipe — brussel sprout salad.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

The turducken (foreground) and one of our turkeys.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Cousin Cary goofing off with toddler Eva.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

Part of our feast included a counter of Asian food — Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to represent all the Asian types in our family. So Eva dutifully ate from chopsticks.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

One side of the kitchen was just for sides.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

With the newlywed Texas pals Patrick and Audrey, who we brought along.

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One Year Old Milestones, Courtesy Of My Clever Colleague

I started worrying this weekend that my 13 month old daughter, Eva, was developmentally behind because she’s not as verbal as I was when I was a baby. I started calling my mom “mama” and meaning it at 10 months. Eva is going to be 14 months and still doesn’t do it. She knows only one word — light, in Mandarin. So I’ve been harping about this all day to my friends and colleagues, and my science correspondent friend Geoff, in an effort to poke fun at me and tell me to chill out, sent me this “list” of “milestones.”

Your Child at One Year

Check the milestones your child has reached by his or her 1st birthday. Take this with you and talk with your child’s doctor at every visit about the milestones your child has reached and what to expect next.

What most children do at this age:

Social and Emotional

·         Puts out arm or leg to help with dressing

·         Plays games such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake”

·         Shows existential dread

·         Reads you a book when he wants to hear a story

·         Can solve some multivariate algebraic expressions

Language/Communication

·         Responds to iambic pentameter

·         Basic grasp of American Sign Language

·         Says “mama” and “dada” and exclamations like “All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

·         Tries to say words you say

 Cognitive (learning, thinking, problem-solving)

·         Explores things in different ways, like shaking, banging, throwing

·         Able to replace a manifold gasket and/or ignition coils on most late model cars.

Okay, I get it. I’m obsessing about something that I probably have nothing to worry about. At least I hope not.

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